Thought Leadership

Public Relations and the Press: A Powerful Partnership

On April 27, Bloomberg published a piece titled “Public Relations Jobs Boom as Buffet Sees Newspapers Dying”  that I thought missed the mark.

As the article noted, billionaire investor Warren Buffet sees the traditional newspaper slipping away. We all do, but it’s wrong to link the entire change in the media industry to the PR profession.

The truth is that the shrinking of newsrooms has less to do with the ascendance of public relations and more to do with the decentralization of media in an age where editors and publishers compete in the internet’s be-the-first-to-post race.

We can’t lose sight of the fact that reporters are still a resource offering stories that are extensively researched and fact-checked to ensure accuracy and accountability, which is exactly what PR professionals and the world need.

With media organizations consolidating across the country and former journalists finding themselves in a PR or corporate communications position, it’s important not to forget the difference between these two roles. We, as PR pros, offer different things. And in an ideal world, journalism and public relations have a balanced relationship benefitting both parties.

Power in the partnership between PR practitioners, those who craft stories and pitch ideas, and journalists, those who cover the world’s news through fair and truthful content, is the key to success and the only way to counteract inaccurate or misleading news.

While publicists need journalists for third-party validation and exposure in editorial form — which can show clients as credible thought leaders while increasing brand awareness and trust — journalists need PR agencies and comms teams to provide ideas that will resonate with their audience in relevant and meaningful stories. The fall of one isn’t good for the other. As PR jobs increase and journalism employment falls, we need to figure out a way to reinvest in journalism, and fast.

It is critical to rededicate our energy, attention and resources to journalists who cover the newsworthy moments in our lives. As PR professionals, we can write about how wonderful a client is and that work can be published and repurposed. But this, at the end of the day, is just promotion and advertising. The power of editorial content should not be underestimated.

In today’s fast-moving news cycle and at a time when every person with a smartphone and social media account is a self-deputized journalist, the role of the press providing credible information is more important than ever, especially for PR professionals.

Instead of talking about the demise of American media, we need to shift the conversation to how we can better invest in the publications and companies who have been in our communities for years — the papers, magazines and periodicals that bear the names of our towns and sponsor community events, host panel conversations and champion philanthropy.

It’s imperative that public relations and journalism remain equal and accountable. It’s time to pivot. Evolve. Move forward. Look for new ways to enhance newsrooms instead of shrinking them. Put money and time into supporting journalists.

And the time to act is now.


Nicholas E. Adams is a PRSA member and president of PR agency NINICO Communications with offices in San Jose, Calif., and Los Angeles.

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Nicholas E. Adams

2 Comments

  • What an interesting take on this Bloomberg article, Nicholas. Thanks for sharing.

    However, I’m scratching my head a bit on the initial take, as the Bloomberg article didn’t appear to blame, per se, the shrinking newsrooms on the public relations profession.

    Instead, it merely appeared (at least to me) to state facts about the employment rates in both professions and the realities inherent to what’s going on as a result of digital communications and impact on consumer media use and expectations, which was originally forecast more than a decade ago with some level of accuracy.

    I do agree with your comments about the importance of independent journalism.

    I refer all of our colleagues to Pew Research’s data / insights released just about a month ago, speaking to the importance of local-community journalism, which is a place where PRSA could make a tremendous advocacy impact by partnering with the Society of Professional Journalists and allied organizations to develop a national campaign urging corporate, consumer and other forms of economic support of local newspapers, stations and platforms. According to Pew, “71% of U.S. adults think their local news media are doing well financially; 14% have directly paid a local news source.”

    (Link: For Local News, Americans Embrace Digital but Still Want Strong Community Connection: https://www.journalism.org/2019/03/26/for-local-news-americans-embrace-digital-but-still-want-strong-community-connection/)

    As for a major sub-headline that’s missing, it’s sobering how expansive the public relations profession is growing, yet PRSA’s own membership numbers remain flat.

    As referenced indirectly in the Bloomberg story, our potential membership extends into the many tens if not hundreds of thousands, per government labor statistics on public relations jobs, further supported by our robust economy.

    In January 2019, current PRSA leadership pointed to “growth” as PRSA’s major 2019 goal.

    Yet in December 2018 National Board minutes, leadership quantified “growth” as expanding from 21,550 members in 2018 to only 21,880 members in 2019… a paltry +330 members / +1.5%. That’s “growth”? (For comparison, PRSA’s membership in 2014 was cited in board minutes as being 22,000, so we’ve somehow moved backward over the past five years, even amid economic growth.)

    This challenge is one that we should be discussing openly and engaging all members to serve as ambassadors. Food for thought!

    Thanks again, Nicholas, for your leadership in providing insights here.

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